Helping Children with Reading and Spelling: A Special Needs Manual – Rea Reason and Rene Boote
I used to work as an assistant in a Reading Recovery team doing 1:1 reading before I moved to working in a Resourced Provision, and having access to this book then would have been a great help.
The book talks through every step in easy-to-follow language. Starting with observation, it discusses the important of language and modelling in both teaching and as a means of assessing a child.
The teacher’s task is to model reading and writing while the child listens to the content or dictates the content. This includes incidental reference to the vocabulary involved as described in Vocabulary of Reading on page 34. For example: ‘Here is the front of the book. This is where the title is and it says… Now, let me start reading – I’ll start from the top of the page here…
There is also a sizeable amount written about how a child’s self-perceived failures in reading and writing can lead to them feeling or actually being judged by their peers, teachers and family; and how this can impact other areas of their life.
In the assessment part of the book multiple ways of assessing a child’s strengths and weaknesses in the areas of meaning, phonics and fluency are listed and described across four stages. (Stage 1 – Early development; Stage 2 – Beginnings of independence; Stage 3 – Becoming competent; Stage 4 – Basic competencies achieved). The information is made more relatable by the inclusion of example assessments and sample plans of actions that might be used to work with each child. The planning used is done so with the fact in mind that sadly, teachers are not afforded much one-to-one time with each child in their class due to the various pressures they find themselves under.
When it moved on to describe different tactics and activities that could be used to benefit each of the three areas (meaning/phonics/fluency), I was pleasantly surprised that rather than vilify the use of computers there was an entire section about different computer programs and how they might be used. Of course, whenever a book includes technology it is often out-of-date by the time it is published, but it should be much easier to locate the sorts of software described by the authors.
After going through a variety of different approaches that could be used to help build up both confidence and capability across different areas of reading, it then moves on to do that same for spelling and handwriting although these sections are shorter than the part on reading. Again there are case-studies and examples intermingled with the activity ideas and the advice in order to keep the content interesting to read.
What this book doesn’t do, which is slightly misleading from the title, is give any advice on the approaches to take for children with specific special needs (such as Autism, ADHD, Down’s Syndrome etc.). Now some of the techniques and strategies discussed in this book may help autistic children or children with ADHD (for example), but the book is geared more towards children who have specific special needs in the areas of reading, spelling and handwriting. However, it also doesn’t discuss dyslexia, which I would have thought would have tied in directly to the subject of special needs in reading and writing.
At the end of the book are two chapters written by teachers, one based in Year 2 and one based in Year 6, and are a recount of how they used the various strategies within their classes. They discuss what they did, what worked, and what didn’t work.
I have found that when children work together they use each other as a resource. They develop a supportive and tolerant attitude towards each other. This gives me more time to assist groups or individuals with particular activities. But above all, I think that the quality of their work is improved. The children get inspiration from discussing the content of their writing or debating solutions to open-ended problems.
For various reasons I chose to pair the children with the Year 6 pupils rather than involve their parents in the programme. But on parents’ evening the father of one of the group said to me: ‘My son was in school for two years and was at zero when he came to your class. You have taught him to read. We want to thank you very much.’ I now think that I should probably have worked more closely with the children’s parents.
So the book ends on an upbeat note (although it doesn’t hide away the parts that the teachers say didn’t work either). Obviously, there’s no guarantee that the things in this book are going to work, but given the number of different ideas put forward there’s a good chance there’s something in here that might help if you’re working with a child who has difficulties with reading and spelling. Overall, a useful book, and I will be referring back to it during the year.